HIV/AIDS Advocacy Groups, Scientists React to Swiss Claim About Antiretrovirals, HIV Transmission

Some HIV/AIDS advocacy groups and scientists on Wednesday reacted with concern to a claim by a Swiss state commission that HIV-positive people taking antiretroviral drugs cannot transmit the virus during sex if they are adhering to their treatment regimens and have suppressed HIV viral loads for at least six months, AFP/Yahoo! News reports.

The Swiss AIDS Commission on Wednesday in a report based on four studies said that couples with one HIV-positive partner do not need to use condoms to prevent HIV transmission provided the above conditions are met and the HIV-positive partner does not have any other sexually transmitted infections. One of the studies -- published in the Swiss Bulletin of Medicine -- was conducted in Spain between 1990 and 2003 among 393 heterosexual couples with an HIV-positive person. The study found that none of the HIV-negative partners contracted the virus from an HIV-positive person taking antiretrovirals. Another study conducted in Brazil found that out of 93 couples, 43 with an HIV-positive partner, six people became HIV-positive. All six of the new HIV cases in the Brazil study were attributed to the HIV-positive partners not following their treatment regimens, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. The two other studies -- one conducted in Uganda and the other conducted among pregnant women -- had similar results, Bernard Hirschel, co-author of the Swiss report and an HIV/AIDS specialist at University Hospital in Geneva, said.

Reaction
Several HIV/AIDS advocacy groups and scientists expressed concern following the release of the report, noting that the research was focused on heterosexual couples and vaginal intercourse rather than anal sex, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. Roger Peabody of the Terrence Higgins Trust in London said the "real thing" missing from the report was information about "anal sex and getting a new" STI. "We don't feel the scientific evidence is conclusive, and there are some key issues that are not covered" in the report, Peabody said.

The French HIV/AIDS advocacy group Act Up said that only a small number of HIV-positive people would be affected by the findings and added that 40% of HIV-positive people taking antiretrovirals still carry the virus despite treatment adherence. France's National AIDS Council said the findings are not conclusive enough to apply to all HIV-positive people who follow their treatment regimens.

Hirschel said that although the report "can provoke certain fears," the information is "credible" and "relies on proven and certain facts" and "should be made known" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/30).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.